For the last three weeks I have been on the road, getting home finally over the weekend. According to my other half he has tired of conversing with Boo, the Queen of Cats. Apparently she is tiring of his company as well. According to Rick the cat sits on her footstool with her back to him only turning occasionally to cast him a furtive glance as if to say “okay, where did you bury the blonde”? To her I am her playmate. While cleaning house we play Boo games and sing Boo songs. Rick, as lovable as he is, refuses to reduce himself to playing hide and seek with a feline, nor is he willing to compose songs in honor of her. His loss I say.
This has not been a lovely vacation so do not picture me lounging on a sun kissed beach with a tropical drink in my hand. I am picturing myself there at the moment, so I pause to reflect on what a glorious picture it is.
Instead I have been bobbing about in the rough seas of senior care without a life raft. My mother, though no spring chicken as she will say, is an amazing woman. Those who have achieved her years or far fewer often do not have half the stamina she is endowed with. Shopping I am often the one to raise the white flag saying my feet have signaled it is time to go home before she will. There is a chink in this armor, however. Though she guards her independence fiercely, she does not like to be alone at night. I get that. We all have our demons. Put me in an enclosed space with a bee and my personal terrors will quickly rise to the surface. Once I emptied an entire can of hairspray to kill two wasps in my kitchen. I apologized afterwards to the insects for the overkill but from the looks of what remained I don’t believe they heard me. That, however, is another blog or therapy session.
When Mother’s husband died four years ago it happened at a time a family friend was searching for a place to stay. For us it was a gift for us to fill the spare room with someone we knew. For her it was a comfort to have a friend to take up the empty space at the other side of the table at dinner and engage in a marathon of gin rummy from time to time.
Recently this dear friend went suddenly into an assisted living situation leaving us faced once more with the hole left behind. This time, I knew, finding someone would not be as easy a task. Friends can’t be replaced at will and my Mother, a lovely woman any given day, can be a bit of a fuss pot (I am treading lightly here to be respectful).
As there was no interim solution, Rick and I drove down and stayed a week in San Jose. We then gathered my mother and her incredible entourage of bags and returned home for a week. During our time here I ran ads looking for a roommate, set up appointments, printed the appropriate paperwork such as rental apps, etc., repacked my mother and headed south again. That made me tired writing it. In the middle we explored some down-the-road options with regard to independent living facilities. Surprisingly some of these are beautiful. Others have a clinical look and feel leaving you with a telltale hospital smell in your nostrils. Mother immediately shied away from that and truly she is not ready for such a place at this point. We would have her live with us but she doesn’t appreciate mountain living and we have stairs and keep the house cooler than she likes which is suitable for incubating chicks.
Facilities such as we looked at are tricky. I remember when I lived in West Virginia I belonged to a group of ladies who shared a love of crafting and hiking. At some point it was suggested we participate in a volunteer program at a local nursing home. I was in my late thirties at the time and had never stepped inside such place so had no preconceived idea of what to expect. Being the emissary for my group I made an appointment with the volunteer coordinator. The day of my appointment I located the address to find a single level sprawling sort of structure. At the entrance was a doorbell with a sign above it which read, “push for service”. I wondered if it had been installed keep people from the outside getting in, or those on the inside from escaping. After being inside I suspected more the latter.
Ushered through the doors by a nurse, I was immediately accosted by the overwhelming smell of urine. So strong was it that I found it necessary to take small short breaths to be able to remain in the lobby. The lady with whom I was to meet quickly arrived once I was announced by the receptionist. Following a brief introduction I was guided through a labyrinth of hallways to her small incredibly cluttered office. A sparse somewhat harried women I would guess in her mid fifties, she talked over her shoulder as she seated herself behind a desk piled with two mountains of files. Our interview was conducted peering at one another through the valley in between. Nearing Halloween we discussed plans for our group to come on Halloween itself and bring treats for the residents. It was decided we would dress up in costumes and serve cookies, cakes, and cider to all who were interested in participating. She suggested we might want to sing (obviously she had been breathing the cleaning chemicals lingering in the air a bit to long). I declined. These people were sick enough already.
Everything settled I said I could find my own way out. Turning the corner I found a lady seated in a wheelchair. On her feet were enormous pink slippers, one of which she shot out to stop me. Kneeling down I asked if everything was all right. She asked if I was Becka. “No, Susie”, I replied, asking if I could find Becka for her. A nurse arrived at that moment and after wheeling the woman down the corridor returned to tell me Becka was the woman’s daughter. The family dropped her off eight years prior and though a check arrived to keep her there every month none of them ever showed up again. Tears jumped up as she spoke to me of this. How terribly sad. Now I have no idea what the family dynamics were, maybe this woman was a miserable mother or abusive, but I couldn’t help feel sorry that Becka had left her mother there to die alone.
Halloween arrived and so did our group of 20. Dressed as cats, maids, dragons, and circus performers we handed out plates of cookies and mugs of cider to the grateful patients. What an appreciative and interesting bunch there were. So many years of stories all gathered in one room. We returned many times while I lived in the area. The lady in the wheelchair was often out front and when I arrived and on each visit she called me Becka. I never denied or confirmed, but rather left it at that and spent some time with her until one day she was gone.
We come into this world alone and often exit it alone. If we can I think it is important to be there with our parents during the transition and help them on their journey as they did when we arrived.
Parchment Lemon Tilapia
2 large tilapia filets
1/2 small zucchini julienned
1 tsp. Montreal steak seasoning
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus two grinds
1/4 tsp. paprika
1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 lemon sliced thin
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Season filets on both sides with Montreal, black pepper, and paprika. Place in center of pre-cut parchment squares. Top with zucchini dividing equally between both pieces of fish. Grind pepper over top. Sprinkle filets with olive oil. Melt butter and add lemon juice. Pour over fish. Top with slices of lemon. Pinch and fold parchment together to form an envelope. (http://www.cookinglight.com/cooking-101/techniques/fish-cooked-in-parchment/fish-in-parchment-fold-paper.)
Place on baking sheet. Bake for 15 mins. of until fish is flaky.